Thursday, June 21, 2012

80-Page (ish) Thursdays: Detective Comics #600!

The GCD claims this one is 84 pages, but we're going to count it: Detective Comics #600, "Blind Justice, part 3 of 3" Written by Sam Hamm, pencils by Denys Cowan, inks by Dick Giordano and Frank McLaughlin.

Accused of treason, and in a coma; yet things just got worse for Bruce Wayne: Henri Ducard's flight just got in. In just two pages, Hamm absolutely sells how dangerous Ducard is, although he seems to have a certain mordant humor. He wonders, if Bruce doesn't survive, did he waste a trip...?

Meanwhile, the homeless man formerly known as T-Bone is wanted for shooting Wayne; but is now unrecognizable in a suit and cleaned up. Dr. Harbinger took control of his body and set up permanent residence; and having set aside funds in advance, is doing just fine. Next on his agenda: revenge, on his former backers the Cartel.

Bruce wakes up in his hospital bed, with Alfred, Roy, and Jeannie by his side; but says nothing here. As he listens to a doctor tell Alfred about the pins in his hip, Bruce can see the Bat-Signal going unanswered. Gordon makes arrangements for Batman to get public credit for a bust, to cover for his absence. Ducard sees the headline the next day, just as he's wondering how to amuse himself while Bruce recovers.

At Wayne Manor, the feds are running another search of the place, and at least some of them appear to be in with the Cartel, since they're looking not for proof of treason, but for the Harbinger tech. While trying to clean up, Roy accidentally opens the door to the Batcave; as Bruce and Alfred are pulling in.

Meanwhile, Ducard is researching Batman, and doesn't seem impressed:

Jeannie is left upstairs, wondering where the hell everyone is, while Bruce asks Roy to keep this cave business under his hat. Roy wants to help, be Bruce's legman, but Bruce says he wouldn't know a clue if it bit him. But Roy says he might, with the right pilot; meaning Harbinger's gear.

For his part, Harbinger has improved said gear dramatically; no longer needing implanted biochips to induce "more exotic neurological dysfunctions." He has a few laughs using his synaptic field disruptor to convince strangers to give him money, before going "full blast" on one of Riordan's hired goons, paralyzing him completely.

The still-oblivious Jeannie is trying to help Bruce and sort through her own feelings; while Alfred and Roy test out Harbinger's gear. Bruce does not approve as Alfred walks around in Roy's body, but Alfred seems to feel desparate times, desparate measures. Later, Bruce takes Roy out as Batman, a "token appearance to allay suspicion." Gordon is suspicious that Batman doesn't come closer, but appears placated when "Batman" recognizes by scent that Gordon isn't smoking his usual brand of tobacco. He helps capture an escaped thug, but while Roy might be in OK shape, he's not in Batman-shape.

Ducard visits Riordan with his own suspicions, and recounts how a young Bruce wanted to apprentice with him, to learn to penetrate the criminal mind. He notes that even then, Bruce had the deductive and martial arts skills, but no understanding of a criminal's motives. They worked together trailing a terrorist, but Ducard shows Bruce the line he won't cross; by shooting the terrorist rather than arresting him. Bruce left Ducard then, but he knows Bruce wouldn't give up his goals after all that training, and must therefore be Batman. Riordan says great theory, but Batman was seen yesterday, smart guy. It takes Ducard a few minutes to remember Bruce could have the Harbinger gear...

Speak of the devil, Harbinger visits Riordan, using his disruptor to make him "the moral equivalent of George Washington: you cannot tell a lie!" Harbinger also tortures and cripples several of Riordan's goons, so you know he's just as bad, if not worse; but it's not necessarily hard to see how a formerly wheelchair bound man might abuse a newfound power.

In the Batcave, Bruce plans to use the Harbinger gear not on Roy, but on another frequency, for one of the many other biochips out there. Channeling into a "volunteer Bonecrusher," Bruce watches Harbinger questioning Riordan. Harbinger loads up a batch of equipment, and tells Riordan to get him the details on the Cartel. Bruce plans to jump Harbinger, but as Bruce's body appears to twitch and shudder like a seizure, Alfred panics and changes the dial of the machine, putting Bruce into another body. They also discover Harbinger must have disabled the chip in his new body, to prevent anyone from overriding him. Still, now Bruce knows what he looks like.

Bruce and Alfred are interrupted by a visit from Ducard, who offers Bruce a chance to pay him off. He'll change his story, and cough up his knowledge of the Cartel, and all he would need would be cash and a new body via Harbinger's machine, which he knows Bruce has used to play Batman. Bruce says nothing, and Ducard gives him time to think it over.

The end approaching, Bruce sends a sketch of Harbinger's new face to Gordon, then as Roy tells Jeannie not to fall for Bruce. Riordan is getting worked over by the Cartel for losing the equipment, and they don't believe Harbinger's alive; but he still can't lie. With his new face outted, Harbinger is forced to jump to a new body, leaving a bomb to destroy his old one and his gear.

In Roy's body, Batman hits the Cartel's secret lab, where Harbinger has taken a Bonecrusher's body, and has several more for backup. Using his synaptic disruptor, he plans to unmask, then kill Batman; but since Roy is "remote-controlled" the disruptor doesn't work. Batman fights the lot of them, as Harbinger tries to get away.

Now, here's where this one gets tough for me. Harbinger leaps to the elevated train tracks. Batman follows, but either lands wrong or a plank snaps, breaking his ankle. Harbinger turns to finish Batman, and Bruce realizes it's the same body he controlled back at the lab, when they were testing the machine. Screaming to Alfred through his communicator, Bruce has him change the biochip frequency so he leaves Roy's body and takes over the Harbinger/Bonecrusher.

This puts Roy back in charge of his body, confused, untrained, and in pain; as a train is headed down the tracks. Bruce tries to get to Roy, so they can use a cable from the utility belt to get away, but all Roy sees is a Bonecrusher that he thought was Harbinger, and he tries to take him with him. Hit by the train, both fall several stories, to their deaths. Shrieking, Bruce returns to his own body.

As Gordon and the police find "Batman's" body (and the documents exonerating Wayne) Bruce has to tell Jeannie what happened to her brother. Even though Roy knew what could happen to him, Jeannie is less than understanding. She won't tell anyone about what she knows, but she is done with Bruce, telling him to "Burn in hell" as she leaves. (I mentioned that the middle chapter maybe could've stood to be 80-pages like the others, and that might've fleshed poor Jeannie out a bit: she basically there to fall for Bruce then dump more guilt on him.)

Along with the evidence Harbinger gathered to use against the Cartel, the feds have a star witness: Riordan, who still cannot tell a lie, and spills on their activities. Ducard doesn't get to testify against Wayne, however he was going to play that, but he does pick up a paying gig: assassinating Riordan.

Alone, save Alfred, Bruce continues his painful rehabilitation; and is visited by Commissioner Gordon, who wants to ask how Bruce's guest Roy ended up in a Batsuit. Gordon saw Batman and Roy together, and knew they couldn't be one and the same, and also knows Bruce won't really answer him. He offers an out: he could keep quiet, let the world think Batman was dead. He also surmises that Batman must've used Roy as "some kind of pawn" to get Wayne off the hook, and must be feeling "pretty low" right now. Has Batman earned a rest? Bruce tells Gordon it's his call. Tellingly, Gordon says "Get well soon."

Ducard is forced to leave the country after his job, but writes Bruce a little note, letting him know how impressed he was with his solution: sacrifice Roy to get Harbinger. Ducard also knows Bruce's other secret, but they can talk about that some other time.

In the cave, Bruce has Alfred torch Harbinger's machine. Roy Kane enters the ranks of the dead that Wayne trusted and trusted him, specifically the recently deceased Jason Todd. (Like Stephanie Brown, Roy never got a display case, either!) Bruce's nightmare haunts him now asleep or awake. Why? The answer strikes Bruce: "That's how Batman wants it." Batman's job is to help the weak, and mete out justice: "We get what we deserve." But, if there was justice, Bruce wouldn't have to suffer like he does, he wouldn't have to be Batman.

Although Ducard made his way into the regular continuity, the rest of "Blind Justice" is almost apocryphal. Maybe it's because Hamm was a screenwriter, and this could be seen as fitting in more with a movie-Batman than the traditional comics version; I kind of do. But, more likely writers had a hard time reconciling a Batman that's lost another soldier and a Gordon that unambiguously knows Bruce Wayne is Batman. How many Robins or Roys could Bruce lose and keep going? Is Bruce subconsciously willing to let people die to protect his secrets? Does he still have secrets, since at least two more people know by the end here? It also occurs to me that Jason is mentioned here, but Dick is never mentioned; and you have to figure he would've at least offered his support. Still, there's enough going on already without that.

I'm not positive Roy deserved the trophy case treatment like Jason Todd had; but he does make yet another "Batman" corpse in the streets of Gotham.

1 comment:

Dale Bagwell said...

Wow Goo, really, really good series of issues here. Too damn bad Hamm never stuck around or was allowed to stick around. Either way he could've had a hell of a run.

Of course now that Batman's been "rebooted" it'd take someone like Morrison, or even Synder now, to possibly bring these issues back into continuity.

You did hear Snyder maybe brought back Thomas Wayne ,Jr right? Maybe is the word for now, but that's usually Morrison's deal.

Lot's of body-switching going on, and even I'm confused, so I can't imagine how you or the reader must have felt reading this for the 1st time.

I also like how Ducard mentions that how true evil hardly mentions it's intentions. He's so right on that one.